GREG LOWER

Neosho County felt the economic effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdown with 10.1 percent unemployment during April, the Kansas Department of Labor reported Friday.

Preliminary figures for the month showed the county had 615 people out of work and 5,445 jobs during April. Of 105 counties, 20 had double-digit unemployment, with Sedgwick County being the highest at 18.7 percent.

The report gave a revised county rate of 3.9 percent in March 2020, and 4.0 percent unemployment in April 2019.

Neosho County is below the state average of 11.2 percent, which is good news, Chanute Regional Development Director Matt Godinez said.

The seasonally-adjusted statewide unemployment rate of 11.2 compares to 2.8 percent in March and 3.2 percent in April 2019.

“The unemployment rate in Kansas increased significantly from a historical low of 2.8 percent in March to a series high of 11.2 percent in April as workers across Kansas felt the effects of COVID-19 on the labor market,” Kansas Labor Secretary Delía García said. “The United States unemployment rate also reached a series high, increasing to 14.7 percent in April.” 

More people lost jobs in Neosho County than those who were out of work. In March 2020, when the shutdown began, Neosho County had 5,947 people working and 243 people unemployed, which was 20 more jobs and 30 fewer unemployed than the previous February.

The drop from March to April was a decrease of 502 jobs, but an increase on the unemployment rolls of 272 more residents.

Godinez said the county benefitted from a lot of great employers, many of them essential industries under shutdown guidelines. He said manufacturers are hiring now.

A list of some of the major employers on Chanute’s city website shows several that were essential services during the shutdown. According to the page, Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center is the city’s largest employer with 437 employees, followed by Orizon Aerostructures with 304.

Although Neosho County Community College with 198 employees, and USD 413 School District with 262 were closed during the shutdown, contract employees continued to receive salaries.

Chanute has 175 city employees and Ash Grove Cement, an essential industry, has 152. State of Kansas offices employ 108 while Bank of Commerce and Community National Bank have a combined employment of 119. Cleaver Farm & Home is also an essential business with 76 employees.

In February and March 2010, Neosho County unemployment reached 11.2 percent with 833 people out of work. That era saw the worst unemployment since 1990. In July 2010, the number of people unemployed peaked at 844, the highest number during 30 years.

The best number of jobs during the period was 9,455 in March 1999, and as high as 9,204 in July 2008. This April’s was the fewest jobs since 1990.

Godinez recalled that at that time, Chanute had big employers in the oil and manufacturing industries, including National Garment and Hitchhiker. Bridgewood Cabinets is a big employer from that era who is still in Chanute, he said.

Labette County had 8.2 percent unemployment and Allen County had 8.5 percent. Wilson County had 18.6 percent and Woodson 8.6 percent.

Godinez pointed out that nearby Montgomery County also had higher unemployment than Neosho, and hopefully the numbers will tick down for all of southeast Kansas.

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